Career Advice

Career Failure at 40: How to Pick Yourself Up and Start Again

Let’s face it. Despite all the talk that 40 is the new 30, we live in a world in which ageism is the norm.

You go to university at 18, get your first job in your mid-to-late 20s, and by your 40s, you’ve reached the halfway mark to retirement.

Despite the tendency to still hold on to this dated way of thinking about age, some things are fortunately changing, albeit slowly.

The idea that you should just have one career in your lifetime, for instance, is no longer fashionable. These days, it’s quite normal to have multiple jobs and careers during your working years.

With these facts in mind, how do you recover from career failure at 40? If you’re thinking, “I don’t know what to do with my life at 40,” this article is a good place to start. Read on.

Can You Start Your Life Over at 40?

Can you start your life over at 40? Since I have personally done so, the answer is yes. Is it easy? No. But not many things in life that are worthwhile are not easy.

If you’ve recently experienced a midlife career disappointment or feel that you have no direction in life at 40, don’t feel alone.

While human beings have created a normative narrative regarding what life should look like at a certain age, reality often turns out to be very different.

Although it can be challenging to act outside of the norms that society expects you to follow, it’s far from impossible to act unconventionally, as long as you believe in yourself — which is often the problem when you’re feeling scared and vulnerable.

People are attracted to confidence and happiness. If you’re acting apologetically because of your age, or constantly reminding people that you’re an older candidate, don’t be surprised if you don’t receive job offers.

Read More: Starting a Career at 40 After Being a Stay-At-Home Mom: What You Need to Know

Famous People Who Made it Big After 40

To give you a bit of hope before I start talking about how to restart your life at 40, here are a few examples of people who reinvented themselves after 40 and made a resounding success out of it:

  • Julia Child: This cooking legend wrote her first cookbook at the age of 50. This launched her career as a celebrity chef. Before that, she worked in advertising.
  • Vera Wang: This famous dress designer designed her first dress at 40. Before she entered the fashion industry, she was a figure skater and journalist.
  • Colonel Sanders (KFC): He first franchised his chicken in 1952 at age 62. 12 Years later, he sold over 600 franchises.
  • Toni Morrison: This Nobel and Pulitzer Prize winner wrote her first novel when she was 39. Up to that time, she had been working first as a teacher and then as an editor.
  • Stan Lee: He created his first hit comic, “The Fantastic Four,” when he was 39. In the years after, he created the famous Marvel Universe and characters such as Spiderman and the X-Men.

Read More: How to Create a Career Development Plan for Employee Close to Retirement

How Do You Recover From Career Failure?

A career failure at 40 can be very challenging, especially if your identity or self-worth is tied to your career. However, as I have found, it can also be a blessing in disguise.

Having to start all over again provides you with a wonderful opportunity to reinvent yourself and grow as a person.

It’s much better than being stuck in a comfort zone for years, even if you’re successful.

To help you navigate a career failure at 40, I’ve listed a few steps you can take to ensure that this major transition in your life is a positive one.

Give Yourself Time To Think

A career failure at 40 provides you with the opportunity to take stock of your life thus far.

If you have the money, take a few weeks or months to really think and figure out why your career failed. If you’re honest with yourself, you’ll probably find that your attitude and actions are to blame for your lack of success.

In the end, if you’re not passionate about something, whether it’s making money, earning respect, or the actual job, you’re not going to make a difference or be successful. You need to have a clear vision of how your career path will develop and the goals you want to achieve.

Before you take any steps towards restarting your life, you need to do a lot of introspection. Here are a few questions you can ask yourself:

  • What are your priorities? Do you urgently need money or do you have the luxury to take some risks?
  • What are your top skills and talents?
  • What makes you happy?
  • What are your responsibilities?
  • What do you want from a job?
  • Are you willing to rough it in order to realize your dream?
  • Which aspects of yourself need to improve?
  • How can you go about improving yourself?
  • What is your dream job? Is it too late to pursue this?
  • Do you need to move to another city/country to achieve your goals?

The last, but very important step you must take during the reflection period is to forgive yourself.

Reinventing yourself at 40 can be challenging for a variety of reasons. Apart from possible money issues and a lot of hard work, you’ll have to deal with societal prejudices.

If you don’t have confidence in yourself, your journey will be much bumpier.

Decide on a New Career

Once you’ve completed the self-assessment stage, you need to decide what type of career you’re going to pursue.

Do you want to remain in your current industry, in this way leveraging a lot of your current skills and experience, or do you want to make a complete change?

Once you’ve decided on a career, you must do in-depth research to establish key factors such as job availability, average hours, and pay.

Also, would you need to obtain qualifications? Consider your options carefully. If you have the money, perhaps you could go back to university to earn a new degree. Earning an MBA, for instance, could open doors for you if you’re looking to enter a business-related field.

In my case, this is precisely what I did — I went back to varsity. I only paid for my first year’s tuition, by the way. The bursaries and also full scholarships I earned subsequently, covered my costs for the remaining years.

You will probably need some experience in the field before recruiters will consider your applications. To gain the necessary experience, you may have to consider doing an internship or volunteering your services.

Redo Your Resume

If there’s one valuable tip you can take from this article, it is this one: rewrite your resume.

If you’ve stuck to the same career until now, you’re probably a bit rusty when it comes to the application process.

Things have changed. It’s worthwhile noting that as a first step in the elimination process, many recruiters will first use resume-scanning software called applicant tracking systems (ATS).

Through this automation process, recruiters are able to filter the most suitable candidates from the hundreds, and even thousands, of candidates that apply for a position.

It is therefore of the utmost importance that your resume is optimized for this software so that it will pick up on the relevant skills, qualifications, and experiences you mean to highlight.

Other points to consider are the following:

  • Ensure that your resume is visually appealing and polished. Remember, your resume is the first impression that a recruiter has of you.
  • Use bullet points to make the document easier to scan. Recruiters have to go through many resumes and may find it difficult to gauge the most crucial details if they have to read through long sections of text.
  • Start your resume with a strong and striking summary. Your aim is to attract the attention of a recruiter so that they feel compelled to keep reading.
  • Match your resume to each job description. This means that you want to highlight the skills, experiences, and qualifications that are most relevant to the job you’re seeking.
  • Ensure that your resume describes you as an achiever. You want to highlight your achievements and show how you added value to a company.

Design an Action Plan

To ensure that you tackle your new job search systematically and in an organized fashion, I recommend that you create an action plan.

This plan should contain actionable tasks and achievable goals, and also realistic timeframes in which to complete these.

Creating this plan will provide you with a clearer idea of how long it will take before you can start your job search. If you need money straight away, the plan will look very different from if you opted to go to university to obtain a degree first.

Whatever your strategy is, an action plan will provide you with a sense of control, which will be much needed in times when you feel overwhelmed and scared.

Be sure to add rewards for goals achieved, and also take some time off regularly to recharge your batteries and ensure that you keep perspective, balance, and joy in your life. You want the next chapter in your life to be a happy and a healthy one, for both your body and your mind.

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About Author

Founder of With over 20 years of experience in HR and various roles in corporate world, Jenny shares tips and advice to help professionals advance in their careers. Her blog is a go-to resource for anyone looking to improve their skills, land their dream job, or make a career change.

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